Eyes on the Prize

Eyes on the Prize

Raptors Must Remain Focused on End Goal in Absence of National Respect

On Friday night, the Toronto Raptors matched a franchise mark for longest win streak in the absence of national attention from their neighbours down south.

It is a narrative that has been overplayed time and time again.

The Toronto Raptors simply cannot get the respect they deserve despite boasting a 52-17 record – thoroughly separating themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference, even sitting just one game behind the mighty defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Raptors are a top five offensive and a top five defensive team, with blow out wins against the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers on their resume – even a regular season series sweep over the Houston Rockets – a team regarded by many as the best in the league.

Yet, on the season, the Toronto Raptors are overshadowed by their American counterparts. They have just four national televised games on ESPN, seven games on NBA TV and only one on TNT.

This is one of the best teams in the entire league. Sports Illustrated has the Raptors atop their weekly power rankings, as does NBA.com per John Schuhmann. This Raptors team is legit and they are winners of 18-of their last 19-games.

“It doesn’t bother me in person, it bothers me for our fans, for our organization, for our players,” Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri said back in January on the Raptors lack of national television attention. “We don’t play as many of the so-called ESPN games, why is that? We’ve had one of the best records the last five years in the league so I don’t understand why the NBA does not give us, I think it’s a bunch of BS if you ask me, that they don’t give us more games.”

Maybe it’s the low ratings that a Toronto team brings, or maybe it is just the lack of interest in a team hidden away somewhere up there in Canada. No matter, the Raptors must continue to force themselves onto national television, and while it won’t happen during the regular season, a deep playoff run will leave ESPN and TNT with no choice. The Raptors eyes must remain on the end goal and in the process, disregarding the lack of respect and media attention, should be the least of the worries.

The Raptors will earn their respect and if it doesn’t happen before game no. 82, it will happen on the postseason stage.

Still, you tune into The Jump and you hear Paul Pierce disregarding the Raptors, stating that the Cleveland Cavaliers and even the undermanned Boston Celtics are above Toronto. ESPN First Take continues to ride LeBron James’ jock strap, despite the Cavaliers continuous trend of mediocrity and losses to underwhelming competition.

Fox Sports? Well, they don’t even mention the Raptors.

Outside of Charles Barkley, the love and trust in the Raptors is virtually non-existant.

Yet what is prevalent is “analysts” repeatedly calling the Raptors a regular season team. A team that will shrink under the playoff lights simply but the style of play they exhibited one year ago. It is truly quite phenomenal how individuals who call themselves sports analysts can call a team unfit of finding playoff success based on how they looked nearly 12-months ago.

Especially a team who just so happens to have the third most playoff wins over the past two years – only behind the two teams who have won an NBA championships the past two years and have met in the NBA Finals in consecutive wins. Excuse the Raptors for falling to a team filled with lethal shooters, oh and LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving.

This year’s Raptors team is completely different. They average an outrageous 112.3-points per game, are top-10 in field goal percentage, hoist a ton more three-pointers as well as high percentage shots, and they find these shots due to ball movement and 23.9-assists per game, good for sixth in the entire Association. For reference, the Toronto Raptors were dead last in assists per game last season.

“Winning a championship in the NBA you understand the journey, the battle, the grind it is. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said following the Raptors’ eleventh straight victory. “The world’s not at the end if you stub your toe and you can’t celebrate when you win one. It’s a marathon.”

This is a special Raptors team and this may be the year where we see something unprecedented. The Raptors no longer are just playing for a ring – they are also playing for respect – and they fully understand how they can attain it.



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